This article originally appeared on i-D DE.
Boom. Suddenly you’re insta-famous. This surreal phenomenon of the digital age is just what happened to Johanna Jaskowska. Last week, only her close friends, family, and a few interested strangers followed the multi-talented 26-year-old, but now she has more than 135k followers — and the number is growing by the second. Everyone wants to dip their face into virtual vaseline and make it glitter with lighting effects. Everyone wants to reimagine themselves as a beautiful plastic cyborg creature with her face-filters for Instagram: Beauty3000, Zoufriya, and Blast. Johanna Jaskowska has managed to offer our self-loving generation (which seemed to be stuck somewhere between cat, rabbit, and dog ear filters) a layer of unconventionality.
We met the Berlin-based internet aficionado to talk about narcissism, cyborgs, and beauty. She also revealed how we can all follow in her footsteps.
First of all, the question that everyone is probably asking: How did you come up with the idea to develop these three filters, that even @uglyworldwide uses?
Beauty plays a huge role in augmented reality filters. But beauty doesn’t automatically mean make-up. I’ve been really influenced by photography, cinema, and futuristic things. If you think about photography for example, it’s the perfect lighting that makes the model more beautiful. With AR you can fake that light. That’s exactly what I wanted to play around with using these filters. It actually all started when I tried out how these processes work — first on Facebook and then Instagram. I made my first Instagram filter for my friend Zoufriya, who likes putting black eyes into photos.
Now that you have all these followers do you feel you're under pressure to deliver more?
In regards to my work, not really. I know I will carry on doing the same things I was already doing before — but yes, in regards to communication. I would like to listen to everyone, answer everyone, but I can’t because it just takes up too much time. So many people contact me and want to work with me. I like that, but I need to first find out for myself what I really want to be doing.
How do you think you hit a nerve with these three filters?
Most of the things we see in regards to filters today are usually to do with turning your face into a cat. Or there are beauty filters that suddenly give you super long eye lashes and red glowing lips. My filters are different. It is just a thin layer on your face that creates this pretty effect. Because what are filters for? Their users. Also with filters you have the possibility to experiment with light, which you otherwise only see with photographers. With my filters you become the model yourself.
You've already mentioned that the users play a big role. In your bio, it says “There’s no filter without you.” A pretty self-explanatory message, but what's behind that?
It used to say “I’m not a robot,” but when people started to repost the filters, I wanted to communicate more with my bio. Everyone was suddenly starting to tell me how much they liked my filters - and I wanted to thank them. The filters are not about the filters themselves, but the people. I just give people a tool so they can do something for themselves.
What does the extreme popularity of filters say about our society?
That people today are all about self-promotion — being beautiful, showing yourself in the best light. Narcism. It is multifaceted: it can be about presenting your body, your work, or your humor. Every single feature of your personality can be used for it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, only sometimes it isn’t very spontaneous. There is this popular theory that your “real” self and your digital self can be completely different. But it’s also cool somehow that you have the possibility to completely create your personality in the virtual world.
Is that what fascinates you so much with your work with filters?
I am very interested in social experiments and watching how people behave in certain situations. I like creating things, presenting them to people, and seeing what people do with them. And then analyzing the whole thing. For example, how they use my filters. People are so different, have different tastes and ways of behaving, communicate differently, and they are all diverse. This social context in my work fascinates me. There is always a good portion of humor and social critique in my work.
What I also find fascinating is the potential that the face filters have. They could become a platform for art…
Absolutely. You have so many possibilities. Even if you just think about the face itself: the eyes, the mouth, the smile, the expression. These are all triggers that can lead to a specific function. I’ve already thought about creating animated posters and would like to experiment more with graphic design. When you laugh for example the typography could distort or if you blink a color could change. I want to change the way we interact with things that already exist.
In this way filters also give us the feeling of anonymity, in a world where hidden cameras lurk behind every corner.
Exactly, they are like a mask. And masks have existed in our culture for a long time. You just have to look at African culture, where masks are used as a form of communication. Today, the internet gives us the possibility to use masks in a new way.
Do you think in the future there will be such a thing as a real-life face filter?
It could be possible, but then we would have to wear a device on our eyes that would put a digital layer on people. If you think of Black Mirror — and that episode where people can be blocked — perhaps it could really happen some day. If I would suddenly see all the people around me with different digital animations or masks, I’m not sure if I would still enjoy interacting. But it could definitely be interesting for an experiment or performance. But AR could also be applied to our cities in the future. We could, for example, use augmented reality apps in order to point us in the right direction through streets. But I don’t know if people are ready to permanently wear freaky glasses.
But we are basically already half cyborg with our mobile phones.
I love films like Bladerunner and Ghost in the Shell and would like to be half robot. Then I would have a chip in my arm, with which I could open doors. That would be nice, because I would never have to worry about losing my keys again.
The possibilities of face filters are far from exhausted. Can we also participate without having had the appropriate training?
Facebook has developed this amazing tool, Spark AR Studio. If people want to try out these things, then I would recommend downloading the software and following the group Spark AR Creators on Facebook. The more people get involved and exchange ideas the better the software becomes. The community has discussions, gives feedback, input, and support. At the moment, not many developers are officially allowed to work with Instagram. But one day that will change and we will all have the possibility to upload our own personal filters.